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Where is Google Going?

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Google, the phone company?

For years, the mobile phone carriers have been adding text services to their core voice offering. Google is doing just the opposite, adding voice services to its core text offering, while moving aggressively into the mobile phone space. The New York Times described Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Apple⁠s Steve Jobs as ⁠engaged in a gritty battle royal over the future and shape of mobile computing and cellphones, with implications that are reverberating across the digital landscape. In the last six months, Apple and Google have jousted over acquisitions, patents, directors, advisers and iPhone applications. Mr. Jobs and Mr. Schmidt have taken shots at each other⁠s companies in the media and in private exchanges with employees.”

Google⁠s answer to the iPhone operating system is Android, a Linux-based operating system that the company quietly acquired in 2005 from a short-lived startup of the same name. In taking Android under its wing and reaching out to application developers and hardware vendors alike, Google has transformed Android into a serious competitor to the iPhone, while jumping ahead, at least in the public perception, of entrenched competitors like Windows Mobile, even though Microsoft has been after the mobile market for a decade. Last October, the research firm Gartner predicted that Android will actually surpass the iPhone, Windows Mobile and the BlackBerry by 2012, even though Android runs on only two percent of smartphones today.

The forecast seems plausible. Not only is Google⁠s timing good, with demand for ⁠app phones⁠⁠ growing, but Android is open source and available to any mobile phone manufacturer who cares to use it. So far, 65 companies have joined the Open Handset Alliance consortium that is dedicated to all things Android. Among the members are three Japanese mobile operators: NTT DoCoMo, Kiddi Corporation, and SoftBank. Google has earned praise for giving developers a freer hand in the kinds of apps they develop and how those apps are sold.

Google⁠s first foray into mobile phone development has so far been less successful. The Nexus One raised eyebrows when covert pictures of it started showing up on the Internet, but the reviews have been lukewarm. Worse, Google⁠s usual practice of putting up beta software that is largely unsupported does not work for a hardware device. When it comes to customer support, Apple is still the company to beat.

And then there⁠s Google Voice, another service acquired by Google, which the company is offering for free on an invitation basis. Google Voice is complex enough that Google has created 11 short videos to explain its capabilities, but far-reaching enough that it ought to worry the conventional telephone companies. Google Voice allows you to give out a single telephone number that will ring all your phones, or some of them, depending on the criteria you set. The service gives imperfect, but decipherable, transcriptions of voice messages. You can block callers, provide different voice mail messages, depending on who is calling, and if that person leaves a message, you can listen in while it⁠s being given?just like an old fashion answering machine. You can easily set up a conferencing call: your Google Voice number can serve as the call-in number. If you call your own Google Voice number and sign into the voice mail system, you can place VoIP calls. Low-cost international calls are also available.

While none of this makes Google a telephone company in the traditional sense, the gap is narrowing. Last year Apple removed Google Voice from the iPhone Store. Now, the service is back on the iPhone, and elsewhere, as a mobile Web application. As with Skype on mobile phones, the service opens the door to callers placing inexpensive VoIP calls over 3G networks?a potential problem for AT&T, the iPhone⁠s exclusive U.S. carrier, which is already struggling to provide sufficient bandwidth to its customers.

Goodies for developers: Web standards, APIs, and more

The software engineers at Google have dedicated a lot of effort to reaching out to their counterparts in the broader developer community. The company is helping drive open standards and has extended many of its services via APIs. Google also hosts both open source projects and, occasionally, developer conferences.

Google⁠s influence with open standards can be seen in the HTML5 specification. Google and Apple may be competing on the mobile phone, but they have joined forces in driving the first major revision of the HTML standard since 1997: the W3C Working Draft specification for HTML5 has two authors: David Hyatt of Apple and Ian Hickson of Google. For each company, the motivations appear somewhat different.

For Apple, the Flash plug-in is a no-fly zone. ⁠At its worldwide developer conference in Los Angeles, Adobe said it would be releasing Flash for mobile platforms including Microsoft Windows Mobile, Palm⁠s webOS and Google Android,⁠⁠ wrote Wired⁠s Brian X. Chen in Wired⁠s Gadget Lab last October. ⁠But don⁠t expect Flash to come to the iPhone⁠s Safari mobile browser. Instead, Adobe is adding support to its Flash Professional CS5 developer kit to convert software written in Flash into standalone iPhone applications.⁠⁠ What seemed like passive reluctance on the part of Apple has since turned into overt policy. Steve Jobs said explicitly that the iPad tablet will not support Flash.

While Google⁠s attitude toward Flash is less hostile, the company is still using both its content properties and Chrome browser to encourage HTML5 adoption at Flash⁠s expense. Last January, the company introduced HTML5-supported YouTube videos via an experimental player. A compatible browser that supports it is required, and Chrome and Safari both work. The resulting display has some limitations, including the inability to show a full-screen image. But Google⁠s intent here is obvious. If a Flash plug-in is no longer required to watch the massive library of YouTube videos, the industry will take notice.

Google has reinforced its HTML5 support by sounding the death knell for Google Gears applications. In a February 19 blog post entitled ⁠Hello HTML5,⁠⁠ Ian Fette of the Gears team wrote that the company is looking for ways to translate all of its Gears capabilities into Web standards, including HTML5, as well as ⁠new APIs like Local Storage and Web Sockets,⁠⁠ both of which are now included in the Chrome browser. Other facets of Gears, such as the LocalServer API and Geolocation, are also represented by similar APIs in new standards and will be included in Google Chrome shortly.”

In addition to Web standards, Google is promoting other technologies for third-party developers:

Google Web Toolkit (GWT):
An open source toolkit for building Web applications, developed browser-based applications, without the developer having to master browser incompatibilities, or AJAX-related technologies like XMLHttpRequest and JavaScript. GWT includes an SDK with compiler and Java libraries that allow developers to write client-side applications in Java, and then deploy them as JavaScript, as well as a Chrome extension for pinpointing performance bottlenecks and a plug-in for the Eclipse development framework. Google says it has used GWT for its Google Wave collaboration software and Google AdWords advertising program, among others, and claims GWT is also used by ⁠thousands of developers around the world.”
For website developers, Google APIs have become ambassadors-at-large for Google services. These are AJAX APIs for all occasions written to let you implement rich, dynamic web sites entirely in JavaScript and HTML. A few lines of JavaScript code will add Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Translate, Google Book Search, and other services. Developers should expect more of the same.
Open source developer resources:
Google claims to have released more than 500 projects comprising more than 15 million lines of code. The company offers free project hosting, including storage space, version control, wiki pages for documentation, and a search facility for finding current hosted projects.

Google also reaches out to developers in person. The company⁠s most visible effort is Google I/O, which will be held this year on May 19-20th in San Francisco. (Even as of this writing in late February, the event is sold out.) Topics include Android, Google Chrome, the Google APIs, the Google Web Toolkit and what the company describes as other ⁠open web technologies.”


Bart Eisenberg

Bart Eisenberg's articles on the trends and technologies of the American computer industry have appeared in Gijutsu-Hyoron publications since the late 1980s. He has covered and consulted for both startups and the major corporations that make up the Silicon Valley. A native of Los Angeles and a self-confessed gadget freak, he lives with his wife Susan in Marin County, north of San Francisco. When not there, he can sometimes be found hiking with a GPS in the Sierra, traveling in India, driving his Toyota subcompact down the California coast, or on the streets of New York and Tokyo.


1980年代後半より,『Software Design』や『Web Site Expert』などの雑誌に,アメリカのコンピュータ業界のトレンドと技術に関するレポートを執筆しています。シリコンバレーで,スタートアップ企業から大企業まで幅広い分野でコンサルタントを務めました。

ロサンゼルス生まれで,自称ガジェットフリークです.現在,妻のSusanとともに,サンフランシスコ北部のMarin County在住。また,SierraのGPSを携えてハイキングしたり,インドを旅したり,カリフォルニア海岸をドライブしたり,NYや東京の街中を歩いたりしています。